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Glenn Beck and the cult of paranoia

By Michael Wolraich, Special to CNN
  • Michael Wolraich says Rush Limbaugh helped propel 1990's GOP revolution
  • But in 2010 midterms, candidates take cues from Glenn Beck, who uses paranoia
  • GOP candidates such as O'Donnell, Paul have taken up paranoid theme to tar opponents
  • Wolraich: Republicans of 2010 will make class of 1994 look like pragmatic centrists

Editor's note: Michael Wolraich is a founder of the political blog and the author of "Blowing Smoke: Why the Right Keeps Serving Up Whack-Job Fantasies about the Plot to Euthanize Grandma, Outlaw Christmas, and Turn Junior into a Raging Homosexual."

(CNN) -- November 8, 1994: It was a slaughter. In one night, Republicans seized 54 seats in the House and eight seats in the Senate, capturing Congress for the first time since 1954.

The newcomers, many from the South, were predominantly white, male and angry. "You're going to have a difference in style," predicted an Atlanta-based Republican pollster. "With the Southern Republicans, you get a more aggressive, assertive conservatism. This is a conservatism that has been built on confronting Democrats and liberals, not accommodating them."

Conservative leaders credited Rush Limbaugh, king of angry white men, with propelling the Republican revolution. "He was the standard by which we ran," said former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, invited Limbaugh to deliver the keynote at its orientation for new lawmakers. Limbaugh encouraged the newcomers to stay mean: "This is not the time to get moderate. This is not the time to start trying to be liked."

Video: Who is the real Glenn Beck?
Video: What the Beck?

The newcomers listened. Led by House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the angry white men of Capitol Hill shut down the government and spent the next six years trying to drive Bill Clinton from office.

Those were the days, my friend. We thought they'd never end.

November 2, 2010: Four years after recapturing Congress, Democrats are again cowering in expectation of a brutal Election Day beating. Rush Limbaugh is still angry, but some of this year's Republican candidates take their cues from someone new: Glenn Beck.

Where Limbaugh was angry, Beck is paranoid. In his land of make-believe, devious enemies have infiltrated the government and are plotting to destroy America. Every significant phenomenon, from the recession to the BP oil spill, is part of their master plan. Their final objective is a fascist-communist-Big Brother-world-government-über-tyranny, and they will annihilate anyone who interferes, which is why Beck frequently asks listeners to pray for his safety.

Just as Republicans channeled Limbaugh's anger in 1994, many of today's Republican nominees exhibit Beck's paranoia. For instance, Rand Paul, the Republican Senate nominee from Kentucky, has described a secret plot to merge the United States into a North American Union under a single currency, sealed by a colossal 10-lane highway from Mexico to Canada.

"It's gonna go up through Texas, I guess, all the way to Montana," he explained.

"If you talk about it like it's a conspiracy," he said, "they'll paint you as a nut. ... But I guarantee you it's one of their long-term goals to have one sort of borderless mass continent."

Bill Randall, a Republican congressional nominee from North Carolina, speculated that the government has colluded with BP to create the oil spill: "Now, I'm not necessarily a conspiracy person, but I don't think enough investigation has been done on this. ... I don't know how or why, but in that situation, if you have someone from a company proposing to violate the safety process and the government signing off on it, excuse me: Maybe they wanted it to leak."

Sharron Angle, Republican Senate nominee from Nevada, has spoken of armed resistance to tyranny.

"You know, our founding fathers, they put that Second Amendment in there for a good reason, and that was for the people to protect themselves against a tyrannical government," she warned. "I hope that's not where we're going, but, you know, if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies and saying, my goodness, what can we do to turn this country around?"

Christine O'Donnell, Republican Senate nominee from Delaware, checks for political opponents hiding in her bushes.

"They're following me," she insisted. "They follow me home at night. I make sure that I come back to the townhouse, and then we have our team come out and check all the bushes and check all the cars to make sure that -- they follow me."

Some Democrats have cheered these wild-eyed candidates, believing that extremists won't win elections. But history contradicts faith in Americans' moderation.

When militant conservatives seized control of the Republican Party in December 1992, one Democratic analyst gloated, "They are silencing the more moderate elements in their party and seeking an ideological purity from the right. A marginalized, right-wing Republican Party will be less competitive with Bill Clinton in 1996 than a more inclusive and centrist Republican Party."

But while the relatively moderate Bob Dole lost to Clinton, conservative shock troops swarmed into Congress and hobbled his presidency.

The way things are going, the incoming Republicans of 2010 will make the class of 1994 look like pragmatic centrists. If so, we can look forward to years of partisan gridlock and poisonous incriminations.

In the words of Glenn Beck, "Buckle up, because trouble is coming."

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Michael Wolraich.